By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
HONOKAA — Kamehameha senior Shaun Kagawa has plenty of football left ahead of him. But with his future at the next level most likely coming on defense, he’s relishing his role on offense while he still can.
When he can make explosive plays on offense, it’s even better.
Kagawa filled in as the Warriors’ workhorse with 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yard run for the go-ahead score as Kamehameha held off Honokaa 19-15 in a physical Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II game that turned into a defensive struggle.
“It was definitely a battle of the trenches,” said Kagawa, who also plays linebacker. “Whoever had the strongest line in this game was going to win. All the credit goes to both the offensive and defensive lines. They did it all. They made the game.”
He was the game-changer, however, especially when he found a seam on the right side then outran Honokaa’s defense down the sideline early in the third quarter for the only score of a second half that featured as many turnovers (three) as pass completions.
Leading rusher Ina Teofilo was watching from the sidelines in street clothes with an injury for Kamehameha (2-0 BIIF, 5-0 overall), but much like their opponent, the Warriors still were determined to feature their power running game. The offense bogged down a bit when Kagawa missed a few series in the second half with cramps, but he wasn’t about to complain about a workload that included 17 carries and two receptions for 27 yards. Kagawa wasn’t as big a part of the Warriors’ spread attack last season as he would have liked, and next year he’ll watch his team’s offense from the sidelines. He’s got scholarship offers from Hawaii and Army, but both are recruiting him at defensive back.
“I definitely want to play some offense before I go to college,” said Kagawa, who also scored on a 10-yard run late in the first half to cut the Dragons’ lead to 15-13. “Just being a part of this offense is great. I’m definitely savoring offense.”
Junior quarterback Makana Ebanez was the Dragons’ most effective runner, using his speed to get to the corner to pick up 100 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. He scampered 33 yards to set up Honokaa at the Kamehameha 30 with just over two minutes left in the game, but on the next play he was flushed from the pocket and picked off by junior cornerback Phil Aganus.
Honokaa’s second turnover of the fourth quarter didn’t quite end the game, however. After holding Kagawa on three running plays, Honokaa was primed to get the ball back when junior punter Kamuela Kawamoto alertly saw an opening on the left side and ran for 6 yards on fourth-and-2.
“That wasn’t the plan,” Kagawa said. “That was off the top. If he didn’t get it, he would have sat.”
Kawamoto, who flipped field position with a 58-yard punt from the back of his end zone in the third quarter, had an eventful game.
Kamehameha made the first big mistake of the contest when a bad snap sailed over his head, costing the Warriors 36 yards and setting up Honokaa at the 5. Ebanez powered in from 4 yards, and Honokaa led 8-0 when Damien Kaluhimoku-Dela Cruz ran in the two-point conversion.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly,” Kamehameha coach Dan Lyons said of a penalty-filled game. “I don’t think this was our best game, but Honokaa probably had a whole lot to do with that.
“We can play better, and we’re going to get better.”
After stalling on its first two possessions, Kamehameha answered with its best drive of the night. Kamehameha quarterback Micah Kanehailua found some rhythm as the Warriors went 96 yards on 10 plays, with Jairah Chun-Lai scoring on a 23-yard run. The senior finished with 47 yards on nine carries.
Ebanez’s running accounted for 60 of 69 yards of an 11-play drive midway through the second quarter that sophomore Sione Epenesa capped with a 3-yard run to give Honokaa a 15-7 lead.
The Dragons (0-2, 1-3) won the rushing battle 209-151, but their passing game was nearly nonexistent. Ebanez connected on 2 of 5 throws.
With losses to Konawaena and Kamehameha behind them and with Ka’u and Kohala ahead on the schedule, coach Bobby Embernate said it’s as good a time as any for Honokaa to try and find some semblance of balance on offense.
“We can practice more on the pass now and get some young guys some work,” he said.
Kanehailua finished 9 of 15 for 87 yards, with senior David Lopez hauling in five catches for 43 yards.
Behind sacks by Chun-Lai and senior Ikaika Villaneva, the Warriors did a better job of containing Ebanez in the second half. Stonewalled in the first half, Honokaa senior running back Justen Kawamoto finished with 43 yards on 11 carries, but two plays after a Chun-Lai fumble gave Honokaa the ball near midfield in the fourth quarter, Kawamoto coughed it up himself.
“I thought our running game was good, but we couldn’t finish drives,” Embernate said. “Penalties, mental breakdowns ended up catching up to us.”
Kamehameha 7 6 6 0 —19
Honokaa 8 7 0 0—15
Honokaa —Makana Ebanez 4 run (Damien Kaluhimoku-Dela Cruz run), 8:33
Kamehameha —Jairah Chun-Lai 23 run (Logan Uyetake kick). 0:33
Honokaa — Sione Epenesa 3 run (Justin Warren kick), 5:33
Kamehameha — Shaun Kagawa 10 run (pass failed), 1:01
Kamehameha — Kagawa 58 run (run failed), 9:22